Glynn County commissioners say DA blocked arrests after fatal shooting

GBI Director Vic Reynolds gave updates at a Friday news conference. Photo from Channel 2 Action News  livestream

GBI Director Vic Reynolds gave updates at a Friday news conference. Photo from Channel 2 Action News livestream

Two Glynn County commissioners say District Attorney Jackie Johnson’s office refused to allow the Glynn County Police Department to make arrests immediately after the Feb. 23 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

The GBI announced the arrests of Travis McMichael, 34, and his father Greg McMichael, 64, on Thursday - more than two months after the fatal shooting. They were denied bond Friday afternoon.

“The police at the scene went to her, saying they were ready to arrest both of them. These were the police at the scene who had done the investigation,” Commissioner Allen Booker, who has spoken with Glynn County police, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She shut them down to protect her friend McMichael.”

Greg McMichael, now retired, once worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office.

Commissioner Peter Murphy, who also said he spoke directly to Glynn County police about the incident, said officers at the scene concluded they had probable cause to make arrests and contacted Johnson’s office to inform the prosecutor of their decision.

“They were told not to make the arrest,” Murphy said.

Johnson recused herself from the case within days of the shooting. Her office has not responded to a request to comment on the commissioners’ account of what happened, or on the case in general.

Arbery would have turned 26 today.

» NEW: Supporters rally in honor of Ahmaud Arbery in downtown Brunswick

» People are walking 2.23 miles to honor Ahmaud Arbery on what would have been his birthday 

Friday morning, GBI Director Vic Reynolds told reporters another arrest could be forthcoming. He also noted that by statute, the GBI’s involvement in a local case must be requested and declined to comment on how other agencies have handled the case.

“In a perfect world would we have liked to have been involved in February? Of course,” Reynolds said. “But it’s not a perfect world.”

» MORE: Brunswick DA Johnson should act to free man innocent man from prison, experts say

Reynolds confirmed the harrowing video capturing Ahmaud Arbery’s death on Feb. 23 was made by William Bryan, who had helped Greg and Travis McMichael pursue Arbery as he ran through the Satilla Shores community just south of Brunswick.

“We’re investigating everyone involved in the case, including the individual who shot the video,” Reynolds said.

Travis and Greg McMichael, below, were arrested Thursday evening at their homes just outside of Brunswick. They were booked into the Glynn County Jail on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

<< COMPLETE COVERAGE: Ahmaud Arbery shooting

The arrests came roughly 36 hours after the GBI opened a state investigation.

“Probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly,” Reynolds said. “I’m very comfortable in telling you there’s more than sufficient probable cause in charging felony murder.”

Gov. Brian Kemp offered the GBI’s services to special prosecutor Tom Durden, the third district attorney to have the case, late Tuesday afternoon. Earlier that day Durden, below, said he would ask a grand jury to  consider criminal charges against the McMichaels.

Photo via Channel 2 Action News livestream

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The McMichaels told police they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected Arbery of committing burglaries in the neighborhood. Friends and family have said Arbery, who was unarmed, was only on his daily jog.

The two-month delay fueled tensions in the community that culminated Friday with a large demonstration at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick.

Durden said it was unfortunate that the investigation was stalled so long. “We take what we are given and go back and look at what has been done and move forward,” he said.

Reynolds said the GBI investigation was fairly straightforward. “The video was already out, we saw it, we reviewed the rest of the file and we made an arrest,” he said.

Calls continued Friday for federal intervention into how the investigation was handled.

“We are going to ask the question why the DA did not conclude that Mr. Arbery was wrongfully killed,” said Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “The video was circulating within the law enforcement agencies before it surfaced in the public.”

Johnson, the Glynn County district attorney, recused herself from the case given Greg McMichael once worked in her office. In that role, he investigated a 2018 shoplifting charge against Arbery. At the time Arbery was on probation for a gun-related incident that took place when he was still in high school. His probation was revoked after McMichael’s investigation.

The Arbery case isn't the only one Johnson has been criticized over. For more than a month, her office has known of new DNA evidence that, the Georgia Innocence Project says, proves Dennis Perry, a man who's been in prison 20 years for murder, is innocent. Johnson hasn't acted to free Perry -- even though four legal experts say she should do so immediately.

UPDATE: Johnson has now requested a new investigation into that case.

After Johnson recused in the Arbery case, it was assigned to Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill. He would later recuse himself, but not before telling Glynn police he did not see sufficient probable cause to charge the McMichaels.

<< EXCLUSIVE: Father of Brunswick shooter previously investigated victim

The Georgia Attorney General’s Office said there were other conflicts of interest that should’ve prompted Barnhill to withdraw from the case much earlier.

Reynolds promised a thorough probe.

“Every stone will be turned over, I promise you,” he said.